Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Mystery of the Feverish Server

The new Vacnet Local Area Network server we'd gotten last month is in the owner's office. Mr. Johnson's closet, actually. It's the best location in the building: close to a sort of shaft where a chimney had been, a few renovations back.

Stan Parks, who has the computer store in town, ran cables through that shaft, down to the basement, then over to all the ground-floor offices, and up to the second floor, without making more than a few new holes in the floors, walls, and ceilings.

That meant that Mr. Johnson had Stan in and out of his office for a couple of days. Make that a couple weeks. It wasn't until just before Labor Day weekend that Stan had the network running almost to everyone's satisfaction.

The Thursday before Labor Day weekend, Mr. Johnson closed the doors in his office, told us that he'd call Tuesday to see how things were going, and left town.

Most of the staff took off around noon Friday. There wasn't much to do, except receive a half-dozen cartons of coated paper and get them stacked in the hallway.

I stayed late, trying to learn more about how the new network worked. Around 7:00, I called it a day, turned out the lights, and locked up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk discovered that her computer worked, but that she couldn't get anything on the network. The rest of us were in the same boat, except some of our computers had gotten twitchy over the weekend.

Mr. Johnson called. I had the honor of telling him that the network was dead. He said, "you deal with it." It's nice to be trusted, but I was in no mood to enjoy the vote of confidence.

Stan Parks came in and traced the problem to a bad card in the Vacnet server. To my relief, he also told everyone that there was no way I could have ‘done something' to the network Friday evening. By 4:00, he'd contacted a supplier in the Twin Cities, and was told that a replacement would be here the next morning.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008. Noon went by, but no card arrived. This time I called the supplier. Their shipping clerk told me that we'd received the card that morning. Somebody had signed for it, so we had it.

Except we didn't. After talking to someone else, I was assured that they'd send another card, and that we'd get it Thursday morning.

Thursday, September 4, 2008. Noon went by, but no card arrived. I was punching in the vendor's number, to have an earnest discussion about Vacnet cards, when Mr. Johnson told me that he'd make the call. About fifteen minutes later, Mr. Johnson told me that he'd been assured that a replacement card would arrive Friday morning.

Friday, September 5, 2008. Just after 8:15 Friday morning, a gray-haired man in a business suit left a package at the front desk. It was the card we'd been waiting for. We rejoiced and, more practically, called Stan Parks.

Stan swapped cards, tested the network, and everything worked.

A good afternoon was had by all, and we went home for the weekend. I came back on Saturday, to see if the network was still working. It was.

Monday, September 8, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk reports that she has access to the network. The problem seems to have been solved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008. Mr. Johnson returns, catches up on what's been going on, goes through correspondence that's collected on his desk, closes up his office and goes home. As do the rest of us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk says, "not again." This was pretty much a replay of September 2, except this time two cards were burned out. Stan Parks orders replacements for both, and spends the rest of the day inspecting the server's power source, heat sinks, fans: everything.

Friday, September 12, 2008. The cards arrive. In the morning. They're the right cards. Stan installs them, tests the network. It works. Mr. Johnson gives the okay for him to stay for the afternoon, so he can check out every part of the network. I help out in this task, since I'm the most computer-savvy member of the staff. Which means that I can understand almost half of what Stan says.

5:15 p.m. Stan hasn't found any reason why the Vacnet server should have burned out three cards in a week. He and I are outside Mr. Johnson's office as he gets ready to leave: locking his desk and closing the closet door before turning out the lights.

Closing the closet door.

The closet door had been open almost all the time since the Vacnet server came. Stan had been back and forth so much, it didn't make sense to swing it shut each time.

Stan had cut a small vent in the wall of the closet, with a blower that pulled air in from the back hallway. That would have kept the closet cool enough, even with the door closed.

Except that the last of those half-dozen paper cartons was still stored in the hallway. Right in front of the vent.

20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. It's obvious, now: The server had its hall vent running and the closet door open until Mr. Johnson left that Thursday. It worked find with the closet door closed, until cartons stored in the hallway blocked its air vent.

It took hours for the heat to build up, Friday afternoon and evening. But finally it got to hot, and one of the server's cards failed.

The closet door was opened again, when Stan started working on the server. He probably didn't notice any warmth, since the Vacnet server system shuts itself down if there's a failure.

We didn't have a problem again, until Mr. Johnson came back and closed the closet door.

Stan's replaced the vent blower with something a bit more robust, we've marked the hallway as a 'no storage' area, and Mr. Johnson made his own contribution toward keeping the server healthy.

Somewhere up on the second floor, he found an old pedestal fan and took it down to his office.

I don't think that server is likely to overheat again, any time soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008. Just to be sure, I stayed up most of Friday night, babysitting that server.

Monday, September 15, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk's computer works: and is connected to the network.

It works. What a relief. It works.

I started a short vacation.

(A special thank-you to Mr. Johnson and the editorial staff, for allowing me to take up four times the usual space for this week's column. They told me that at 'epic' experience like that warranted a longer column.)

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